Recycling

One of the most irritating aspects of most music labels’ reissue policies (if there is, indeed, a “policy” of any kind present, aside from generating the most cash with the least amount of effort) is the constant need of company bigwigs to recycle releases for the umpteenth time.

I know it’s akin to yelling into an empty forest, especially since just about every music collector is likely to get a hernia sooner or later when faced with the 756th reissue of “Kind of Blue”, but it also needs to be said around here:It is maddening to see how much music remains unreleased, is left to shady European offshore labels to reissue in more or less adequate format or which, in a worst-case scenario, is just lost to the sands of time and tape deterioration because the management, as is customary, couldn’t give a flying leap about the music it has been and is selling. A product is a product, and if the ($) signs are right, the same music will be reissued again. And again.
And again.

Of course, there are reissues of reissues that do make sense: the ones that improve on a former shoddy tape transfer, the ones that add unreleased worthwhile (!) tracks, the ones that restore original artwork, the ones that actually complete a supposedly already complete edition (which was missing tracks discovered after the last reissue or had simply been forgotten on the last reissue because of editorial stupidity); all in all, the ones that improve upon a prior edition.

Alas, most of what is released time and time again is not only devoid of any of the above but often even reduced in quality. Stick the unremastered CD into a flimsy cardboard box, together with a bunch of others, call it “Collection” of some sort and sell it for 10% of the price. Someone will surely bite (or bite themselves in the ass for having paid 90% more when it was first released). In short, it’s a quick stab at another couple of thousand bucks paid by the few hundred people that somehow missed the earlier sixty-eight reissues.

Of course it is commendable to help new generations get acquainted with great music, but leaving a trusted core group of music aficionados and collectors in the dust by simply not releasing much sought-after music that they can then add to what they have already amassed in their lifetimes, is simply dumb. Those people are the ones who filled the pockets of the upper label echelons, who are now raining on their parade, and with all the huffin’ and puffin’ about declining sales, it is surprising (to say the least) that labels are seemingly digging their own graves by rudely shoving the demanding collectors and fans out of their way to, for example, supplying stacks of totally superfluous “Pink Floyd Immersion” sets to unsuspecting music shops (the few shops that are still around, that is).

For years I have tried to find some rare west coast jazz sessions on digital media and instead of finding them, I stumbled over another 100 Hip-O-Select re-boxings of reissued and re-boxed earlier reissues of reissues. How many Wes Montgomery reissues of the same material does the world really need, even if he happens to have been one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived, which he certainly has?

How many totally outrageous box sets like the most recent Elvis Presley one can the world stomach before the music industry finally completes its imploding process? Yes, that set was remastered well and apparently had pretty good editorial work go into it, but who the hell pays $800 and more (later reduced for a while before it disappeared into thin air altogether) to have all of the material … again? People have, as it is now sold out, but it’s not like 95% of it hasn’t been available elsewhere time and again. The same goes for that “Complete Miles Davis” shoebox that would have forced me – had the box not been a total packaging disaster that was only fixed temporarily – to sell the then 80% redundant single disks I bought previously to make room (and find cash) for this new extravaganza? Why reissue this stuff again and leave the rest of recorded history in musty vaults?

Yes, it’s the usual collector nagging and quibbling, but when I look through my most recent newsletter subscriptions, the mail updates from major labels as well as relevant forum posts on new reissues, I’m beginning to think that labels like Sony/Columbia simply don’t have more than three or four master tapes by one or two artists in their hands anymore. The rest seems to have evaporated. They are apparently forced to reissue the same Santana compilation (now with fewer liner notes [none, actually], with fewer tunes [1 CD instead of two] and cheaper packaging, although it still outwardly looks like the double-CD reissue that came out, what, 10 years ago … and is still available all over the place) because they simply don’t seem to have anything they can reissue or, God forbid, release for the first time. Zilch. The vault seems to be a super-huge storage space with three tapes in it. They probably turned off the air-conditioning in it as well. Lights out. Slam the door.

If there ever was a reason to start diving into more or less shady wells for more worthwhile “releases”, it’s now. It is this kind of money-grabbing and stupid reissue policy that caters only to the dumbest, the simplest … and the most gullible.

“Objective” commentators always cite one reason for this kind of label behavior, and that is “economic viability”. Catering to those three people who are looking for a rare west coast session simply doesn’t help a or any label survive, they say. Hm. I wonder how they survived the past 80 and more years? In my eyes, by balancing their roster. Ever since they stopped doing that, all their money seems to be on one or two racehorses that generate enough cash flow … directly into the pockets of investors, management and …. well, whatever or whomever. It certainly isn’t invested into broadening their appeal for a diverse group of collectors and, spoken subjectively, a probably very large group of music fans that could surely generate the kinds of returns if attempts were to be made at catering to their interests and needs.

Hell, I’ve gotten off the train long ago because I have better things to do than sit and wait (in the case of the Beatles remasters, how many decades did it take for something sensible to come along?) for something to happen that simply won’t.

Looking at the purchases of the past two or three years, I’ve reduced my shopping activities by 98%, or more. There must be thousands like me that have started both spending their money elsewhere or on other things and looking elsewhere for their “fix”. I have, for example, spent more of my money on good wines to go along with the music I already have than on reissued music I would have liked to have, had it been available. I’m subsidizing several excellent vineyards in my area that way with money that would, surely, have gone straight into the pockets of the powers that are the music industry.

All the music industry then does in return is to lament the death of a totally outdated business model and accuse 13-year old kids and 92-year old grandmothers of having brought about the industry’s downfall by downloading illegally what they would never have bought in the first place.

What a laughable concept and what a schizophrenic and self-delusional way of looking (with the extremest form of tunnel vision) at their own market. The patient seems to be dead, and although I’d love to dance on all of their graves to celebrate that stupidity got the better of them, it’s still a sad thing to see.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. Hi, Volkher,

    Better called these products as Re-package.

    I have the Fank Sinatra Reprise Suitcase and they come up recently with a Box of all (almost) Frank’s individual Reprise CD with (almost) original artwork and paper sleeves.

    I was tempted and eventally shy away from taking it.

    A glass o f good wine with the music is nice and my wife reminded me repeatedly that I could not have made one round of my collection even at the listening rate of playing 2 CDs per evening which I tried to do, but there still so much good music to collected out there. Lately I have been shopping usually in old record stores which is fun.

    Cham

    Reply

    1. I bought the Sinatra “Capitol Years” box set (U.K.) last year and find it spectacular. Yes, it has its high and its low points (sonically), but taken as a whole, it’s the best available version today … without having to hunt down a trillion single releases in this or that format. Since then, I’ve supplemented it with some single Sinatra releases that came out after the box set was published.

      Yes, I agree with the term “re-packaging”, but that doesn’t negate my argument. Too much of the same old shite is reissued (repackaged) time and again.

      Too much of the music I’d like to have is simply not available anymore (if it ever was) and I won’t get my hopes up. I don’t think much of it will ever be available again.

      Cultural suicide.

      Additionally, I have to agree with you re “getting through one’s CD/music collection”. A million dollars won’t help me listen to what I have, even if I try to listen to many more than 2 CDs per day.

      It’s an affliction, really.
      😀

      Say “Hi!” to your wife from me and make sure she allows you to drink more wine, even if you don’t make it through your collection. It’s the sociable thing to do … 😉

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *